We Don’t Have Time by Elizabeth Mangham Lott

Reading about Al Mohler’s embarrassment that he once advocated for female clergy brought to mind the great Anne Lamott story about shopping with her friend. Pam had cancer and just three weeks to live when the two went shopping to find a new outfit for Anne. Anne walked out of the dressing room and asked her best friend, “Does this outfit make me look fat?” To which Pam replied: “Oh, Anne. We don’t have time for that.”

As a daughter of the moderate Baptist movement born while Mohler was a student at my alma mater, Samford University, the only narrative I have ever known about my calling and the moderate Baptist body with which I affiliate is that those other Baptist folks over there do not support me.

Last week’s reminder of Mohler’s position is not really about those other Baptist folks but is about the story I have inherited and the reframing it requires. It is easy to allow the naysayers to shape my own story. After all, I was told by a Southern Baptist pastor as a 17-year-old high-school senior that I should be aware that the devil might try to convince me to preach.

The reality, however, is that no matter our calling or career path someone will always disapprove of what we do and how we do it. When we give too much credence to voices that dismiss our calling from God, we begin to focus on those voices instead of the need to reshape the story we have inherited for  the 21st century

While Al Mohler was scouring the books in the library at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, baby girls were being born. Those girls are now old enough to attend moderate Baptist seminaries and divinity schools and stand in pulpits around the world. How should we reframe the narrative for them? How do we shift the story from one of opposition to one of affirmation?

Young women who are now preparing for and entering into ministry need more than a pat on the back of vague affirmation. We must respond with intention. Setting up scholarships for women entering seminary and offering them encouragement along the way is a first step. But the next step is to put them to work. Invite them to lead retreats, welcome them as guests in pulpits and call them to be your pastors.

The story is no longer about who should and should not serve, but about the stories that merge together and unite us in the daily tasks of ministry. We no longer have time for that other story because:

— Mandy is standing at the center of the labyrinth holding the bread and the cup.

— Suzanne is lighting a candle with a mother who held her son as he died.

— Helms is living simply, loving generously and welcoming us into the way of Christ.

— Suzanah is advocating for the safety of mothers around the world who are preparing to give birth.

— Sarah Jane is loving those who never thought they would meet one another over the communion table.

— Lindsay is walking children home from school who are afraid of the kidnappers who wish to sell them into the sex trade.

— Erin is inviting seekers and doubters, people of deep faith and sometimes no faith, to sit together with big questions.

— Nancy and Lynn are walking the prison halls to visit, to bless and to listen.

Letting go of that old story will require us to better know ourselves and give words to the ways God is moving among us. It will require us to bless the past and embrace hope for the future. It will require us to let go of a decades-old paralysis of spirit and pay attention to the life-affirming movement of God’s Spirit at work among us. We don’t have time for any other way forward, because there is Kingdom work to be done.

Elizabeth Mangham Lott is a preacher, writer, wife and mother living in Richmond, Va. She serves on the board of Virginia Baptist Women in Ministry.

This article is used with permission of Associated Baptist Press.

Baptist Women’s World Day of Prayer by Linda J. Weber

The Baptists of the world are networked together under the umbrella of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA). There are seven continental organizations within the BWA Women’s Department covering each continent of world except Antartica. The North American Baptist Women’s Union (NABWU) is one of these continental regions of the world. We are a ministry network of Baptist women from the US, Canada, and Guyana, and each one of you are a part of this network.

In most places of the world, Baptist women are known as women who will stand up and speak up against the injustices they see in their own communities and through this worldwide network Baptist women are making a difference. It is important that in North America we use this network of connections with other Baptist women to address the issues of our own communities and churches. By networking together, we are stronger in numbers and encouraging to one another in our commitment to Jesus Christ. We should never underestimate our power to bring about change as we work together.

All of these continental organizations are connected together through prayer  . . . the Baptist Women’s World Day of Prayer which takes place on the first Monday of November each year. From the first time the sun comes until the last time the sun sets on that day, there are Baptist women praying for their sisters in about 110 countries of the world. In some parts of the world women walk for days to gather and in some places, this day of prayer becomes several days of prayer. No matter where you are in the world, Baptist women gather an offering on the Day of Prayer for the ministry of the BWA Women’s Department and the ministries that are taking place through each of these continental organizations.

Visit these web sites to see what God is doing through Baptist women around the world. www.bwawd.org and www.nabwu.org

Linda J. Weber is president of North American Baptist Women’s Union.

Bus Stop by Rachel Coggins

“Is it dangerous where you are?” I ask the attractive Native American woman as we walk along.

“No, ma’am” she responds pensively. “Just the snipers, the car bombs, the booby traps, the IEDs, and the VBIEDs” (pronounced vee-bids, Vehicular Borne IEDs).

“Good grief!” I gasp as I look on with amazement at the sturdy soldier walking next to me. We had met over dinner, and as we walk back up the road she continues to tell me her story. She is the granddaughter of one of the Navajo Code Talkers whose heroic actions in World War II saved the lives of countless Americans. They used their rare Navajo language mixed with a code they had developed to transmit vital information over the airway. Their mix of language and code was never broken by enemy interceptors. Their amazing story is powerfully told in the movie Wind Talkers.

I am completely fascinated with this young lady and very impressed with her courage and will, but I must break off and go to the bus stop. The bus stop is the final place of the day where those who are on emergency leave will be found before the cycle begins again early in the morning.

“Chaplain, you might want to go see the guy sitting alone over there in the blue shirt,” says my friend who manages the bus station. “He looks like he could use a word from you.” She and three other workers are non-military civilian contractors. They are accustomed to my visits and help keep an eye out for distressed military members headed home on emergency leave.

“May I sit with you a minute?” I ask the blue-shirted young traveler. “Sure,” he says, and he immediately begins to tell me his story. His father has died, and he’s going home for the funeral. I listen patiently and ask him a few questions to help him tell me the story. He talks about his dad with great affection and tells me a few stories of their life together. I express my sympathy and ask if I can say a prayer for him. He gratefully accepts.

The room is filling up with a mix of military and civilians, about half going on R&R to places other than the United Stated, while the other half are on emergency leave. It is my goal to speak to as many of the emergency leave personnel as possible while they check in and wait for the bus taking them to the airport.

Sitting with earphones planted deep in his ears, a young man ignores everything around him. “How are you?” I ask him. “I’m fine, Chaplain,” he says taking out one of the earpieces and looking up at me with glassy eyes.

“Do you mind if I sit with you?” I ask.

“Sure, go ahead,” he says and makes room for me to sit. A brief conversation lets me know that his mother is expected to die, and the young soldier hopes to make it home before she does.

“Have you thought about what you will say to her?” I ask.

“Just trying not to think about it,” he says, which is the all-too-typical answer. Although these young soldiers live with death all around them, the loss of a parent is something they are often unprepared to face. I talk with him about what to expect and suggest he think about what to say to his mom.

“This will be a very special moment that you will remember all your life. It is a precious chance to tell your mom what you need to tell her.” He nods. “Maybe while you travel you could think about a time you and she shared that was really special to both of you and then remind her of this story.”

“Humm, that’s a good idea,” he says. We talk a little more, and I say a prayer for him before moving along.

This scene repeats over and over as I make my way through the group that is continuing to gather. With each conversation, there is a strong sense of divine covering, enshrouding us in sacred seclusion—a holy moment between chaplain and soldier.

I use the metaphor of stepping into a telephone booth and helping the person to phone God. At this special moment of leaving a war zone to face a family tragedy, God is the one they need to talk with, and I help them make the connection.

I continue to move about the room, but as it happens far too often, I come upon a story that stops me in my tracks.

“My wife and son were in a car accident,” he says. “They were hit by a drunk driver. My wife is in critical condition, and my son is dead.” I surrender to a deep sigh and sit back; there are no quick words for such a tragedy.

“You know, Chaplain, you’re over here because you think you are protecting your family from terrorists and people who would hurt them, and then something like this happens.” He hangs his head shaking it from side to side. He heard this news two days ago and has been consumed with the images and thoughts his mind displays. It appears he has barely spoken since that time, and our chance encounter, or more accurately God-appointed encounter, provides an opportunity for him to express his deep pain.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to hurt someone, Chaplain.”

“What do you mean by that?” I ask the rhetorical question.

“Sometimes a man has to do what a man has to do.”

It is my nightmare scenario. I will spend the next few moments before the bus leaves passionately reasoning with the hurting husband and father; hoping to convince him not to do what he has suggested. I end it with an equally passionate prayer and commend him to God for further care.

Rachel Coggins is a chaplain in the United States Army and serves with Deployment/Redeployment Operations.

An Incomplete Road by Frances Tuck

I’ve grown used to the nearly incessant sound of tractors and other construction vehicles near my house. You see, my neighbors have been working on a building project for what seems like an eternity. They intended to build a house on an empty lot but instead have had an endless stretch of diversions and other projects that needed to come first.

The hum that I’m hearing today is a tractor working on the road that we all share. The project of building up the road, straightening it out, and making sure it had the correct drainage and slope took a long time. Everything had to be just right. Although we all eventually enjoyed what seems to be a straight, smooth road for a few months, the project was not completely finished. The right conditions revealed that. In less than a day, our beautiful, straight, perfect road was ruined. All it took was one storm. Sure, this was a monsoon by California’s standards, but it was only one storm.

By the time the sky cleared and people ventured out of their houses again (we Californians are a lot like cats when it comes to rain–we don’t like getting wet), it was apparent there was a big problem. I could hear the sound of sloshing tires and whirring engines from my cottage, so I peeked out to see a car caught in the muddy road. For days now, I have seen several vehicles of all shapes and sizes trapped in the muddy mess. I, myself, was caught in that mess and had to call my father-in-law to come and help me out. The road is now in the perfect condition . . . for a demolition derby, but it is not so much fun to drive on.

I could suggest leaving the road as is and compensate for its swampy state. I could buy a 4×4 or invest in snow tires. Maybe I could just simply stop driving. But the problem isn’t my car, my tires, or even my errands. The problem is the road; it needs work.

In order to make the road usable again, a few repairs are necessary. However, to make the road usable for the long haul and for the storms to come, major work has to be done.

Thinking about my life and the work that is being done in my inner life reminds me of the road. While I’m frequently tempted to cut corners and rush to the finish line, I can see what can (and will) happen if the necessary work doesn’t happen now, before the storms come. Jesus promised that storms would come in the parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders (Luke 6). Both had storms, but the difference was the foundation. One had dug down deep and placed the foundation on the rock (Luke 6:48). Perhaps the other was too lazy, too naive, or too afraid of the work it would take to build on the rock and placed his house on the sand instead. One could weather the storm. The other was calling his insurance agent the next morning.

God knows that other storms will come in my life. If I only allow for shoddy, stopgap repairs in my soul, I’m going to have repairs done frequently and eventually will need to stop and wait for everything to be built again from the ground up. And that waiting would be even more agonizing because it will last longer and be all the more painful. If I allow the time necessary for God to heal my many hurts, I will be able to weather many storms.

Waiting can be torture. In my best moments, I’m hopeful for the future. In my worst, I despair and argue with God (a lot) about whether things will ever change. I honestly have to say my best moments make up only a tiny fraction of my time. Most of the time I’m wishing I could drive on the road again, so I’m unwilling to allow all the time necessary in order for construction to be complete.

Maybe all leaders need to build their houses on the sand the first time around. Maybe we need to weather a storm and a horrible crash in order to learn that the work God intends for our soul is necessary and worth it. It certainly was an essential reminder for me that even as a church leader I am still a sinner in need of God’s grace.

The difference is where we build our house the next time. Am I going to take the extra time to allow God to reinforce the lessons God is teaching me or am I going to smooth things over and hope for the best?

Well, when you put it that way . . .

Frances Tuck is a student at Western Seminary in San Jose, California. Visit her blog: A Spot for My Thoughts!

The Things that Happen in Church! By Sarah Jackson Shelton

Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues one Sabbath when a crippled woman entered the service. The interaction between them is a mere seven verses long and is only recorded in Luke’s gospel (Luke 13:10-17)

Jesus was simply doing what rabbis do. He was teaching in the synagogue when he spied “a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.”  While she obviously had a physical ailment that afflicted her, this woman’s spirit was also crippled causing her to be “bent together” or “bent with” herself. We might say she was “all bent out of shape,” physically, emotionally, and spiritually. What had once been only an ailment was now this woman’s complete world. She had so forgotten who she was previously, that she became identified to others and herself only by her infirmity.

While we may not bear outward, obvious physical marks of our disability, we realize the inward scars that often result in anxiety and timidity, self-doubt and depression, grief and easy judgment, insecurity and defensiveness. Like this woman, we can become so crippled by our own spirit or the oppressive spirits of familial expectations, cultural bias, and religious convictions that we too are burdened, stooped over, drawn into ourselves. We lose our ability to gaze outward, to look up, to stand tall and strong.

Luke presents the woman as if this were a routine trip to the synagogue. I imagine she moved in slow and careful ways. Her presence speaks of her acceptance of her limitations due to the dull discomfort that has been hers for eighteen years. Hers is a world of quiet resignation. So this woman came with not one expectation, and she certainly would not have called attention to herself in order to ask Jesus for anything. Yet in the space of one short sentence, Jesus calls her to him with the single word, “woman,” and he sets her free. He openly defends her. He even calls her a daughter of Abraham. With the ability to, at last, stand fully upright, her response is to look up and to praise God.

Now I know another woman whose life was also deemed holy. Her parents had her name dutifully written on the Cradle Roll of their church and upon her arrival, her happiest place in the entire world was at church. Her Sunday School teachers would tell her the wonderful stories of Jesus and her heart would respond with “I love Jesus.”  Her choir directors would teach her songs of praise and worship and she would leave the doors of the church to sing these songs everywhere she went making her home and her school and the great outdoors into sanctuaries of praise and worship. Her pastor preached sermons that always invited anyone to give their life to Christ and to full time Christian vocations and every time, she felt a tug on her heart that yes, this was her place and role in the world.

There were no restrictions put on these invitations. You didn’t have to be a certain gender, or a specific color, whosoever will, could respond. And she did . . . over and over again. She felt as if the Lord had reached out His hand and touched her mouth with words, just as God had with the prophet Jeremiah. But when she tried to preach them, the resistance was powerful. You see, the great big family of faith changed and became more culturally-biased than Spirit-led. And these changes and how they were played out in the local church laid heavy on her heart and so burdensome were they that she bent over with a crippled spirit so that the fullness of her personhood, her relationships with others, and her sense of God were all distorted, twisted, and bent out of shape.

Just when she thought she could not exist any longer up under the weight of her deformity, a congregation who celebrated the transformative works of God, touched her anew with the love of Christ reminding her that she could, at last, stand tall and praise God with the words God had placed in her mouth.

Most of you know this story as my own. I find that I am still in awe of this calling to be your pastor and your invitation to stand tall and praise God. It is mysterious and challenging, assuring and frightening, energizing and exhausting all at the same time. Now what we do here at Covenant together are the same things that happen in all churches:  we bury the dead, we affirm those in love, we celebrate births, and we study the scriptures in order to bolster one another with courage for the living of these days. But then there are things that happen here, and through you, that do not happen any other place on earth because we dedicate ourselves to welcoming God’s transformations.

For instance, on Wednesday of this past week, we held the funeral service for Louise Andrews. There was a large butterfly in the baptistery in celebration of the transformation she had experienced as a believer who now resides with the Lord in Glory. But there was also a Care Team from our congregation who had so tenderly dedicated themselves to love Miss Louise that we witnessed her eccentricities turn into endearments in her last years . . . yet another transformation. The service was a little unconventional to honor her life appropriately.

So on Wednesday night of this week, my mother-in-love called our house. Our conversation went something like this:

“There was a man at church tonight who had on Mardi Gras beads.”

Oh?

“He said he had gotten them as he went into a funeral service at Baptist Church of the Covenant.”

Really!

“He said the woman who died was over 100 and there was a trumpet player who played “When the Saints Go Marching In” and that the pastor was a woman.”

Did you tell him I was your daughter-in-law?

“Well,” came her hesitant reply,I did, but you know, I’m never quite sure about all the things that go on down there at your church!”

 

My hope and prayer, my friends, is that not a one of us gets sure of what will happen here. Rather, let us be open to the Spirit who works continually to relieve us of our burdens, our physical infirmities as well as those convictions that become binding and restrictive, so that we are set free to praise God for the wondrous things that divine love and mercy have done and will continue to do. Amen.

(Exegesis from Cynthia Linder, “Preaching the Lesson,” Lectionary Homiletics.)

Sarah Jackson Shelton is pastor of Baptist Church of the Covenant, Birmingham, Alabama. This blog entry is an excerpt from her August 22, 2010 sermon.


Living Outside the Box by Susan Rogers

On my 32nd birthday, I found myself sitting in the auditorium of the McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia, preparing to begin my first semester as a full-time seminary student.  After getting married, having two children and working as an occupational therapist for nine years, I determined that God was calling me into vocational ministry.  Unlike many other students, I had not just finished an undergraduate program.  Unlike many other students, I immediately left my classes to pick up children from school.  Unlike many other students, I came to seminary with no particular sense of direction for my future in ministry.  After years of doing all I could to fit in, I realized that I had decided to do something out of the box.

I actually first realized this some months before when we told friends and family that we would be moving to Atlanta so that I could attend seminary.  Although I received much encouragement, I also received concern (“gosh, I hope everything works out”) and astonishment (“I wish I had the courage to do what you all are doing”).  It was clear that my adulthood call to ministry placed me in a category of people who were brave, but also a little out of the ordinary.

After completing seminary and a pastoral residency at Peachtree Baptist Church, I once again discerned that God was leading in a somewhat unconventional direction.  On July 1, 2010, I became the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida’s first strategic church planter.  I have returned to my hometown of Jacksonville to start a new faith community in the area.  As if being a second career seminary student/mom was not enough, now I find myself in the mysterious work of planting a new faith community.  As if being a woman in ministry was not distinguishing enough, now I find myself embarking on the risky work of exploring new ways to “be” the church.

In a recent conversation, a friend looked me in the eye and said, “you really like to do things the hard way, don’t you?”  That remark has remained in the forefront of my mind.  Am I just stubborn?  Do I just like a challenge?  Is there an easier and better way to live out my calling? These are the questions I can’t help but ask myself as I face the challenges that are a result of the path I have chosen.  Certainly, there is an easier way, and although I will face difficulty, failure and rejection, I am confident that each of our particular paths are not traveled in vein.  Even when the road seems dimly lit and the path seems less traveled, may you and I have the courage to embrace our unique ministries.

Susan Rogers is a church planter with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida, living in Jacksonville. Follow her journey on her blog: http://susanharrisrogers.blogspot.com/2010/09/truth-of-matter.html.

Jury Service and Preaching the Gospel by Pam Durso

A few weeks ago I served on a jury. The case only last about three hours, and the deliberation process lasted only minutes. My five fellow jurors and I agree in about four minutes that the defendant was guilty.

The case was amazingly forgettable as court cases go, but the experience has stuck with me . . . not because of any graphic details of a crime or any dramatic legal moments. It was a case about a simple traffic violation.

What keeps drawing me back to this case are the two young lawyers. Both the defense attorney and the prosecutor looked to be in their mid-to-late twenties, fresh out of law school. But I could tell that they both had worked other cases. They knew their way around a courtroom. And they were both prepared. They had notes and law books. They had talked with the witnesses. They brought photos and drawings of the crime scene. And they were knowledgeable. They made objections, asked the judge for rulings on legal points.

But both these young attorneys desperately needed a courtroom coach—someone to help them polish their performance. The defense attorney repeatedly brought rabbits to chase into his cross-examination, but then he never chased those rabbits down. He failed to follow-up on his own questions, and after a while I stopped paying as close attention to his questions because I sensed that he was talking in order to be heard—not because he had something to say.

At the end of the case, this young defense attorney offered his closing statement to those of us in the jury box. In a passionate plea for truth and justice, he charged us with the task of protecting the entire American constitutional system and ensuring our own freedom as Americans. And okay, I couldn’t help myself. I smiled. I was pretty sure that the United States government was not hanging in the balance, waiting on the verdict we six jurors would render about this defendant who had broken a fairly minor traffic law.

The young prosecutor, who was very organized and efficient in many ways, also needed a coach. She asked many good questions. She followed up with more questions, but she failed to ask THE question that would have put her case away. She never got to the central point of her case. I found myself scooting up in my chair, willing her to ask that ONE question that desperately needed to be asked. But she never did.

In her closing, she presented well, but she stood to the side of the podium, frequently gesturing back toward the defendant. And with each awkward hand gesture, she became more and more unsteady on her high heels, wobbling back and forth, trying hard to stay upright. And then I started worrying. Was she going to gesture again? What if her gesturing caused her to fall off her high heels? Was she going to land in the jury box with us? I stopped listening to her words because I was so worried about her wild hand gestures and those very high heels.

In the days since my jury service, I have wondered about those two young lawyers. Who will sit with them and encourage them? Who will offer them some pointers about how to be more comfortable and confident public speakers? Who will talk with them about finding the main point and sticking to it? Who will help them understand that being overly dramatic lessens the effect of their words?

I was reminded that young preachers are in some ways more fortunate than young lawyers. Young preachers have professors, mentors, and congregations who walk with them as they learn the art and craft of preaching.  And for those of us who sit in the pew and have the chance to listen to a young preacher, we have an opportunity, and even a responsibility, to provide affirmation, encouragement, thoughtful responses, and helpful suggestions.

But those young lawyers do have one thing that some young preachers lack—opportunity! Those young lawyers will be in the courtroom hundreds of times over the next few years. They will improve because they will have lots of practice. And so it should be with our young preachers too—get them in the pulpit. Give them time and space to preach!

And so, one final confession—I really like jury service.

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.